APRIL 22nd: CELEBRATING MOTHER AND EARTH
(A Jesuit reflects)
-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
April 22nd 1541 (the Friday of Easter week) is indeed a historic day for the Society of Jesus. On that day, St. Ignatius of Loyola and five of his companions pronounced their solemn vows in front of an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls in Rome. This took place exactly seven months after the Pope approved the Society of Jesus and two weeks after Ignatius was elected the first Superior General of the Jesuits.
April 22nd is commemorated by the Jesuits as the day of the birth of the vowed society and also the day on which the Society dedicated itself to Mary as Mother.
In a very rare coincidence, on April 22nd 1970, the first ‘Earth Day’ was observed in the United States to focus on the need for peace and at the same time ensure protection of the environment. Today ‘Earth Day’ is by-and-large the most commemorated global event which transcends national borders yet preserves all geographical integrities.
Significantly, in 2011, the Social Justice and Ecological Secretariat of the Society of Jesus gave to the Jesuits, to the Church and to the world at large – a path-breaking report on ecology entitled “Healing a broken world”.
On September 16th, 2011, in a letter to the whole Society, the Superior General of the Jesuits, Fr. Adolfo Nicolas wrote “GC (General Congregation) 35 marked a step forward in the Society’s stance towards ecology by integrating it in the decree on mission. Just as we Jesuits are called to promote and serve right relationships with God and with other human beings, in the same way and with the same urgency, we are called today to restore and heal humanity’s broken relationships with creation”. The document itself as Fr. Nicolas says “contains suggestions for examining our personal lives, our community lifestyles, and our institutional practices. Likewise it can be a useful instrument to move us from written statements to concrete life and mission, so that in all these aspects of our lives, we contribute to the sustainability of the planet”.
The document gives seven significant recommendations which mainly emerge from GC 35 (Decree 3, #31 to 36) which mandate Jesuits to go beyond dealing with ecological issues in a cosmetic way, to move beyond doubts and indifference and to take responsibility for our home and earth. GC 35 talks about environmental destruction, the displacement that is taking place and the need and importance for advocacy and research in the service of the poor and the marginalized. In the above mentioned letter, Fr. Nicolas emphasises that “there is much more we can do in this area using our present apostolic institutions, whether these be educational, pastoral, or social. We can adopt new ways of living, propose helpful practices, deepen understanding, promote research, and where appropriate engage in advocacy.”
A Jesuit today is therefore challenged not only by the powerful significance of April 22nd but the fact that one has received a non-negotiable mandate to protect and preserve Mother Earth. In the Final Contemplation to obtain the love of God in the Spiritual Exercises, we humbly say, “take Lord and receive all…… because you have given all to me.” This prayer finds resonance in the Earth Day anthem ‘Ode to Joy’, “now we must resolve to protect her, show her our love, throughout all time!”
22nd April, 2014
(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)
Address: PRASHANT, Hill Nagar, Near Kamdhenu Hall, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052